« PreviousContinue »
have encountered, are exhibited with the rest. I must acknowledge that some few readings have slipped in by mistake, which can pretend to serve no purpose of illustration, but were introduced by confining myself to note the minutest variations of the copies, which soon convinced me that the oldest were in general the most correct. Though no proof can be given that the poet superintended the publication of any one of these himself, yet we have little reason to suppose that he who wrote at the command of Elizabeth, and under the patronage of Southampton, was so very negligent of his fame, as to permit the most incompetent judges, such as the players were, to vary at their pleasure what he had set down for the first single editions; and we have better grounds for suspicion that his works did materially suffer from their presumptuous corrections after his death.
It is very well known, that before the time of Shakspeare, the art of making title-pages was practised with as much, or perhaps more success than it has been since. Accordingly, to all his plays we find long and descriptive ones, which, when they were first published, were of great service to the venders of them. Pamphlets of every kind were hawked about the streets by a set of people resembling his own Autolycus, who proclaimed aloud the qualities of what they offered to sale, and might draw in many a purchaser by the mirth he was taught to expect from the humours of Corporal Nym, or the swaggering vaine of Auncient Pistoll, who was not to be tempted by the representation of a fact merely historical. The players, however, laid aside the whole of this garniture, not finding it so necessary to procure success to a bulky volume,
when the author's reputation was established, as it had been to bespeak attention to a few straggling pamphlets while it was yet uncertain.
The sixteen plays which are not in these volumes, remained unpublished till the folio in the year 1623, though the compiler of a work called Theatrical Records, mentions different single editions of them all before that time. But as no one of the editors could ever meet with such, nor has any one else pretended to have seen them, I think myself at liberty to suppose the compiler supplied the defects of the list out of his own imagination; since he must have had singular good fortune to have been possessed of two or three different copies of all, when neither editors nor collectors, in the course of near fifty years, have been able so much as to obtain the sight of one of the number.
At the end of the last volume I have added a tragedy of King Leir, published before that of Shakspeare, which it is not improbable he might have seen, as the father kneeling to the daughter, when she kneels to ask his blessing, is found in it; a circumstance two poets were not very likely to have hit on separately; and which seems borrowed by the latter with his usual judgment, it being the
It will be obvious to every one acquainted with the ancient English language, that in almost all the titles of plays in this catalogue of Mr. William Rufus Chetwood, the spelling is constantly overcharged with such a superfluity of letters as is not to be found in the writings of Shakspeare or his contemporaries. A more bungling attempt at a forgery was never obtruded on the publick. See the British Theatre, 1750; reprinted by Dodsley in 1756, under the title of " Theatrical Records, or an Account of English Dramatick Authors, and their Works," where all that is said concerning an Advertisement at the end of Romeo and Juliet, 1597, is equally false, no copy of that play having been ever published by Andrew Wise.
most natural passage in the whole play; and is introduced in such a manner, as to make it fairly his own. The ingenious editor of The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry having never met with this play, and as it is not preserved in Mr. Garrick's collection, I thought it a curiosity worthy the notice of the publick.
I have likewise reprinted Shakspeare's Sonnets, from a copy published in 1609, by G. Eld, one of the printers of his plays; which, added to the consideration that they made their appearance with his name, and in his life-time, seems to be no slender proof of their authenticity. The same evidence might operate in favour of several more plays which are omitted here, out of respect to the judgment of those who had omitted them before.9
It is to be wished that some method of publication most favourable to the character of an author were once established; whether we are to send into the world all his works without distinction, or arbitrarily to leave out what may be thought a disgrace to him. The first editors, who rejected Pericles, retained Titus Andronicus; and Mr. Pope, without any reason, named The Winter's Tale, a play that bears the strongest marks of the hand of Shakspeare, among those which he supposed to be spurious. Dr. Warburton has fixed a stigma on the three parts of Henry the Sixth, and some others:
"Inde Dolabella, est, atque hinc Antonius ;" and all have been willing to plunder Shakspeare,
• Locrine, 1595. Sir John Oldcastle, 1600. London Prodigal, 1605. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1609. Puritan, 1600. Thomas Lord Cromwell, 1613. Yorkshire Tragedy, 1608.
or mix up a breed of barren metal with his purest
Joshua Barnes, the editor of Euripides, thought every scrap of his author so sacred, that he has preserved with the name of one of his plays, the only remaining word of it. The same reason indeed might be given in his favour, which caused the preservation of that valuable trisyllable; which is, that it cannot be found in any other place in the Greek language. But this does not seem to have been his only motive, as we find he has to the full as carefully published several detached and broken sentences, the gleanings from scholiasts, which have no claim to merit of that kind; and yet the author's works might be reckoned by some to be incomplete without them. If then this duty is expected from every editor of a Greek or Roman poet, why is not the same insisted on in respect of an English classick? But if the custom of preserving all, whether worthy of it or not, be more honoured in the breach, than the observance, the suppression at least should not be considered as a fault. The publication of such things as Swift had written merely to raise a laugh among his friends, has added something to the bulk of his works, but very little to his character as a writer. The four volumes' that came out since Dr. Hawkesworth's edition, not to look on them as a tax levied on the publick, (which I think one might without injustice,) contain not more than sufficient to have made one of real value; and there is a kind of disingenuity, not to give it a harsher title, in exhibiting what the author never meant should see the light;
1 Volumes XIII. XIV. XV. and XVI. in large 8vo. Nine more have since been added. REED.
for no motive, but a sordid one, can betray the survivors to make that publick, which they themselves must be of opinion will be unfavourable to the memory of the dead.
Life does not often receive good unmixed with evil. The benefits of the art of printing are depraved by the facility with which scandal may be diffused, and secrets revealed; and by the temptation by which traffick solicits avarice to betray the weaknesses of passion, or the confidence of friendship.
I cannot forbear to think these posthumous publications injurious to society. A man conscious of literary reputation will grow in time afraid to write with tenderness to his sister, or with fondness to his child; or to remit on the slightest occasion, or most pressing exigence, the rigour of critical choice, and grammatical severity. That esteem which preserves his letters, will at last produce his disgrace; when that which he wrote to his friend. or his daughter shall be laid open to the publick.
There is perhaps sufficient evidence, that most of the plays in question, unequal as they may be to the rest, were written by Shakspeare; but the reason generally given for publishing the less correct pieces of an author, that it affords a more impartial view of a man's talents or way of thinking, than when we only see him in form, and prepared for our reception, is not enough to condemn an editor who thinks and practises otherwise. For what is all this to show, but that every man is more dull at one time than another? a fact which the world would easily have admitted, without asking any proofs in its support that might be destructive to an author's reputation.
To conclude; if the work, which this publica